“Care and listen”: a nurse unit manager’s recipe to elevating patient experience

Westmead Hospital Neuro-trauma close observation unit nurse unit manager (NUM) Suzanne Stevens

Suzanne Stevens has always wanted to be a nurse because for her, it meant making a difference in people’s lives.

The life-changing decision to stop dreaming and start doing came after an unpleasant encounter Suzanne Stevens had with a nurse whilst her son was suffering from pneumonia.

It was on this day over 20 years ago she realised what impact a positive patient experience could have on someone’s life – rather than a negative one.

“When I went home I started reflecting on what happened at the hospital, I realised I’d be able to make a difference as a good nurse,” Suzanne said.

Suzanne’s career of change in western Sydney

Suzanne started at Westmead Hospital as a registered nurse in 2001 and worked her way up to becoming a Nurse Unit Manager (NUM) of the neuro-trauma close observation unit in 2019, saying the desire to make positive change drove her to become a manager.

“I wanted to have a say and make changes that would make patient’s and carer’s time at the hospital a bit better,” Suzanne said.

Westmead Hospital Neuro-trauma close observation unit nurse unit manager (NUM) Suzanne Stevens

One of the first changes Suzanne made was introducing flexible visiting hours where possible.

“No one likes to be sick and in hospital – it makes patients and their families feel vulnerable,” Suzanne said.

“The day when visiting hours were extended from 8am to 8pm across the hospital was indeed one of my happiest days at work.”

More changes were to follow. As a new manager, she encouraged her staff to take time to chat when filling out patient forms and involve patients in bedside handovers.

“There is never nothing to do in nursing but sometimes we just need to stop and think why we are here.

“We are here for our patients. We need to take time and find out their background and what they’re like at home.

“A five-minute conversation in the morning can save you hours of work in the afternoon – and can also make your patient’s day.”

Westmead NUM Suzanne Stevens with the carer foldable chair

Having an impact on patient experience

Due to the nature of the injuries, carers and family members wanting to stay in the neuro-trauma close observation ward overnight with their loved ones became a new normal.

Suzanne saw this happening more and more, and that’s when the Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) Patient Experience team offered a helping hand.

As a result of this collaboration, the close observation ward was able to purchase a carer’s chair – a comfortable chair that unfolds into a flatbed for overnight stays.

“Since we received the chair, there haven’t been many nights when it wasn’t used,” Suzanne said.

“It made a carer’s stay in the ward so much better.”

WSLHD staff talks about how each and every one of them contribute to elevating patient experience across all WSLHD facilities

Patient Experience Week

Patient Experience Week is celebrated annually and globally to highlight how healthcare staff impact patient experience every day.

Suzanne’s recipe for a positive patient experience is “to care and to listen”.

“If we can do just those two things, we will make a huge difference, and I believe my team is so good at it.

“Sometimes just being able to verbalise their journey and concerns helps patients to feel more comfortable,” she said.

The close observation ward’s patients are often long-term and it allows the team to build a connection with them and their families.

“We sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to our patients, help their loved ones to arrange surprises and family visits for them,” Suzanne said.

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of making sure their meal order was taken correctly because it’s the small things that often make the biggest impact.”

NSW Health is celebrating Patient Experience Week 26-30 April and our focus is on putting the heart in healthcare.

Visit our new Elevating the Human Experience hub to find out more and let us know what a great patient experience means to you.